The state will learn this week how many seniors face being denied their diploma because they have failed to pass the High School Assessments — which test students in government, algebra, English and biology. School board members, after having decided last year to move forward with the requirement, are now sharply divided over whether they should enforce the standard for the first time.
The 12-member board this year includes a majority of appointees of Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley, who last year attempted to oust State Superintendent of Schools Nancy Grasmick but did not have enough support from state lawmakers. Grasmick is a strong supporter of the HSA requirement.
Blair Ewing, the board’s vice president, said that at this week’s board’s meeting, he will propose delaying the graduation requirement for one year.
“We have a requirement here that really has not brought with it the kind of supports over time that these students need,” he said. “I think the fact is many of these students have not really had the opportunity to make it through this process. They haven’t had the supports at school, they haven’t had the instruction.”
Appointed last year by O’Malley, Ewing said he has heard from many educators and parents who told him that too little help is offered for students who are learning English or who have disabilities.
Ewing said that he knows of at least three members who also plan to vote to delay making the tests a graduation requirement, and that two more are needed to pass the measure because another will be absent from the meeting.
David Tufaro served on the state school board until June, when he warned other members that O’Malley’s appointees would disagree with the decisions the board had made.
“A lot of what we tried to do will have been for naught,” Tufaro, an appointee of former Gov. Robert Ehrlich, recalled telling the school board, “because the new school board members appointed by the governor would probably roll back the requirement of the HSA as a graduation requirement.”
“I fear that it may be coming true,” he said recently.
O’Malley said through a spokesman that students need to be prepared if they are going to be held to standards.
“Gov. O’Malley believes that students should be held accountable for their progress, but also believes that if we’re going to hold them accountable, we ought to be providing them the tools and resources necessary to succeed,” spokesman Shaun Adamec said.
He did not elaborate on whether O’Malley supported the tests as a graduation requirement.